A-Z of the Mass: Faithful, Prayers of the
At one time the prayers of the faithful (also known as the bidding prayers) marked the transition into a new phase of the liturgy. This was the point at which the catechumens departed leaving only baptized Catholics of good standing to continue the Mass. For a number of reasons, this custom has been abandoned. Yet if we reflect upon why early Christians thought it appropriate to separate full and potential members of the Church at this moment, the ecclesial dimension of our prayers of intercession comes more sharply into focus. The liturgy of the word culminates in the Church as one body interceding for the world. In the process the members of this body exercise their baptismal priesthood.
When we recite the Creed, we are affirming that we hold the faith of the Church, one, holy, catholic and apostolic. The pattern of the prayers of the faithful (immediately following the Creed) as laid down by the rubrics of the Mass is meant to underscore this unity with the universal Church. The local Church gathered in prayer is united to the entire Catholic Church, to all who share the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence the missal recommends that the bidding prayers should go beyond the needs of the local community and embrace the concerns of the whole Church and the wider world. The Church, of course, includes the communion of saints and so we are encouraged to include our deceased brothers and sisters in our prayers. They in turn can pray for us, and this unity of the entire Church in prayer, both those still alive and the saints that have died, is neatly emphasised by the custom in England and Wales of concluding our petitions with a ‘Hail Mary.’ We join our prayers to those of our Mother in heaven, who is herself an image of the Church and its Mother.
The Church, then, is united. It is one body with Christ as the head. We become members of this body, members of Christ, through our baptism. Christ was anointed priest, prophet and king and through our baptism we share in this anointing. We have what is known as our ‘baptismal priesthood.’ We are set aside for God, called to be salt of the earth and the light on a lampstand. We are sent to sanctify the world in which we live and work. One of the ways in which we exercise our baptismal priesthood is the prayers of the faithful. Like Moses and Abraham we intercede for the people. This prayer gains its efficacy because it is made through Christ, the ultimate intercessor. Indeed, we can see the prayers of the faithful as an important reminder that in essence all Christian prayer is intercessory, for we make all our prayers to the Father, in the power of the Holy Spriit, through Christ our Lord. All true Christian prayer is Trinitarian.